March 30, 2009

Baseball Splits Doubleheader vs. Brown

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Though the baseball team split its home-opening doubleheader against Brown on Saturday — facing its first conference foe of 2009 — there was a tangible feeling of celebration in the home team dugout at Hoy Field. After a crushing loss in Game 1, 10-2, Cornell relied on standout performances from both a rookie and a seasoned veteran, freshman right fielder Brian Billigen and senior shortstop Scott Hardinger, to take the back end of the doubleheader, 8-4.
“To beat a team as good as Brown after losing the first [game] shows the character of this team and shows that [Cornell’s players] are starting to figure out how to win,” said first-year head coach Bill Walkenbach, who tallied his first Ivy win on Saturday.
The sweet smell of victory couldn’t come soon enough for the Red.
Returning home after a winless week in California over Spring Break, the Red (3-11, 1-1 Ivy) snapped its losing streak with the win over the Bears (4-11, 1-1) — the 2007 Ivy League champion.
“It’s kind of the monkey on our back for the last few weeks,” Hardinger said.
And it took the home team a full game to work out the kinks against the Bears.
Walkenbach singled out the performance of Brown’s sophomore southpaw Mark Gormley as the difference-maker in Game 1. The lefty struck out seven and gave up only five hits in seven innings on the mound — his pitch count topping 100 by the end of his complete game effort.
“[Gormley] kept us off balance,” Walkenbach said. “He was using a slider effectively, hitting both sides of the plate with his fastball and held our running game in check. … Brown’s probably one of the best teams in the league, and they have a very good starting rotation.”[img_assist|nid=36368|title=Running the bases|desc=Senior shortstop Scott Hardinger gave the Red the lead against Brown in Game 2 with a three-run double.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Junior Matt Hill took the loss for Cornell, but for several innings it was a pitcher’s duel between the two starting lefthanders. Hill gave up only one run in the early innings, and Brown was ahead 1-0 going into the fifth. That is when Hill began to struggle — giving up a deep three-run homer by Brown’s Pete Greskoff to bring the score to 5-0. Sophomore Dan Lea came in to relieve Hill, but the Bears’ four-run inning gave them the edge and the pitcher’s duel became a one-sided slugfest.
According to Hardinger, the game started to slip away from the Red after Brown went ahead, 5-0. The Red responded with two runs in the sixth, but luck was not on the home team’s side.
In the bottom half of the doubleheader, two right-handers faced off on the mound: Brown junior Will Weidig and sophomore Jadd Schmeltzer, who was Cornell’s designated hitter in Game 1 and the second half of Game 2. With five strikeouts in five full innings of work, Schmeltzer looked good from the start, reaching two outs within the first two minutes of the game.
Once again, however, Brown got on the board first, though it took the team longer this time.
Senior second baseman Matt Nuzzo singled to right center and eventually reached third on some wild pitches from Schmeltzer. Junior Matt Langseth couldn’t make the play on a slow-hit grounder to second, and the error, one of three for Cornell in the game, enabled Nuzzo to cross home plate. The Bears scored one more time before the Red got a chance to respond.
In the bottom half of the inning, the home team’s bats finally came to life — starting with a double down the left field line from starting pitcher Schmeltzer. Then, the Red’s bad luck from Game 1 disappeared. With men on first and third, Langseth’s attempt ricocheted right off the first baseman’s glove — putting the Red on the board.
With two outs and two men on, the freshman Billigen stepped to the plate — launching the ball high in the air to center field. Brown’s Steve Daniels chased it back to the fence, but the ball fell to allow two runs to score as Billigen rounded the bases to third.
When freshman first baseman Frank Hager left Game 1 in the third inning with a hamstring injury, it made room for Walkenbach to eventually get Billigen into the game in right field. Following the Red’s rotation, Billigen had only seen action in three of Cornell’s games this year. The substitution would prove to be productive later that day in Game 2 — in his first collegiate start, Billigen went 3-for-3 with two RBI.
“The key play [of Game 2] is Billigen,” Schmeltzer said, “the freshman coming up big with the triple to center field. That just kept the fire in our engines going.”
The 3-2 margin was Cornell’s first lead of the day. Brown tied it up at 3-3 in the fifth, but Schmeltzer came up big again — with two outs, two strikes and Hardinger at third, an RBI single regained the Red lead, 4-3.
With Schmeltzer in scoring position, Langseth looped a first pitch over the second baseman, and the pitcher tried to extend the lead by sliding into home. The throw from right field was high, but the umpire called Schmeltzer out to end the inning — to the surprise of the Cornell dugout and bleachers.
A gash on the bridge of his nose from the collision at home plate in the last inning, Schmeltzer struggled on the mound in the sixth as dehydration took its toll.
Senior right-hander Stephen Osterer came to the mound, but a wild pitch — one of many on the day — got away from catcher Adam Jacobs and allowed the tying run to come in from third.
In the bottom of the sixth, however, the Red came to play — relying on some well-executed small ball. Jacobs singled to center field, and Billigen dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line. Senior left fielder Domenic Di Ricco’s bunt rolled to the pitcher, who looked to go third but stumbled, unable to make the play at any base.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Hardinger smacked the ball to the left field corner for a three-run double and a lead that the Red would not relinquish.
The Red’s bullpen shut down the Bears over the next three innings — preserving the 8-4 lead. With a scorching fastball, sophomore Taylor Wood allowed just three hits, matching them with three key strikeouts — one to end the seventh inning and bookending the eighth.
Billigen added another perfect bunt in the seventh, as Langseth almost came home to extend the lead even further.
“I didn’t know what to expect [when I put Billigen in],” Walkenbach said. “The other day in practice, he was laying down bunts beautifully, and I thought might as well give him a shot.”
Junior closer David Rochefort took it from there — dismissing all three batters he faced in the final inning. Fittingly, the final out was a fly ball that sailed straight to Billigen in right field.